How stressed banks affect you

Pedestrians pass by a Bank of America branch in Chicago, Ill.


Tess Vigeland: OK it's not exactly chump change. $75 billion is a lot of money and that's what banks still have to raise to before the government gives them a passing grade on these stress tests. On the other hand, it could have been worse. So, maybe you've seen your bank in the headlines about the tests. Bank of America needs to raise $34 billion, Wells Fargo is up there short nearly $14 billion by testing standards. GMAC and Citigroup made the list of "gotta do better." But what does all this mean to you, the consumer. Jeremy Hobson has some answers from New York.

Jeremy Hobson: First of all, relax. Take a deep breath. And listen to the soothing words of financial expert Doug Elliot of the Brookings Institution.

DOUG ELLIOT: I know it's a cliche by now, but I would not stress out over the stress tests. They're not going to have much impact on the ordinary individual.

Let's start with depositors. Say you've got your money at one of the banks that needs more cash.

ELLIOT: I wouldn't be worried at all because first you have the FDIC providing very effective deposit insurance.

Elliot's talking about the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. It insures up to $250,000 per depositor per bank.

ELLIOT: But even beyond that, the government has explicitly said they will not let any of these 19 banks fail.

Feel better? Brad Hintz does, too. He's a banking analyst at Sanford Bernstein.

BRAD HINTZ: You know I happen to have my money at Chase, and I have some money over at Bank of America. I'm not worried about either one.

So what if you have a credit card at one of the troubled banks? Won't they jack up the fees and penalties even more to try to make some money? Experts say no -- at least not in a noticably different way than a healthy bank. And your mortgage won't be affected either. If you keep making those timely payments, all that might change is the address you send your checks to. So consumers won't be affected much by the stress tests. But Hintz says people who own stock in the banks might.

HINTZ: The problem we're going to have is a bunch of banks trying to raise capital simultaneously. So think of that as a group of really fat people trying to squeeze through a single door. And that means that the stock price is going to go down, and it probably means that there'll be pressure in terms of your ownership, you'll get diluted over time.

But Doug Elliot at the Brookings Institution says the damage has likely already been done. He says the market has already priced the stress test results into stock values. And remember those tests were all about what might happen to the economy.

ELLIOT: What matters most is what's going to actually happen over the next few months, and it makes sense to pay some attention, but it's really hard to predict the future so you can waste a certain amount of effort trying.

So sounds like a whole lotta nothing for the average person, doesn't it Brad Hintz?

HINTZ: What the government's really trying to do with the stress tests is to make sure that the management of these banks know that they're well capitalized. That's important because management has to have confidence and therefore they'll be willing to lend.

And boosting lending is at the heart of just about every massive government undertaking in recent months. From the TARP to the TALF to PPIP to the acronym-less stress tests. Oh, actually there is an acronym. It's the SCAP -- supervisory capital assessment program. Remembering that is probably going to be the most stressful thing about them for most of us.

In New York, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.


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